Captains can learn a lot from Ponting – luckily we have Faf
Like the straight-A Aussie skipper, Du Plessis knows a thing or two about inspiration and captaincy
That Ricky Ponting is the most successful captain among the 48 men who have led teams at the World Cup is no surprise.
So much so that captains at next year’s tournament could do worse than follow his example.
Ponting was a straight-A skipper, winning 89.66% of his record 29 games in charge, and he took Australia to the title in 2003 and 2007.
Only Clive Lloyd, who led the West Indies to glory in 1975 and 1979, has also been there, done that more than once.
What made Ponting so good? That he had a hell of a team at his disposal for much of his tenure didn’t hurt.
Neither that he spent most of his career as the best, or nearly the best, batter in the game – especially in a team culture that demands you play at least as good a game as you talk.
Ponting was an unvarnished talker, saying things like: “We’ll be able to put a stronger team on the ground and we can hopefully get back to playing the way we have been over the past few weeks. If we do, we’ll be very hard to beat.”
No bullshit there, and it helps when you can weld that kind of clarity to a killer pull shot, among an array of dazzling strokes, and walk out for the toss holding a team sheet listing a dozen gun cricketers who could stroll into any other team.
SA’s best World Cup captain has been Hansie Cronjé, who presided over 11 victories in 15 matches; all played, you would hope, before he succumbed to match fixing.
Graeme Smith also won 11, but of 17. His six losses are twice as many as Cronjé’s defeats.
Again, so far so predictable. But who would have thought Brendon McCullum is the second-most successful World Cup captain, and easily in Ponting’s league with a winning percentage of 88.89 – better than Lloyd, Kapil Dev, Allan Border, Imran Khan, Arjuna Ranatunga, Steve Waugh, MS Dhoni and Michael Clarke.
All have, of course, bested McCullum by winning the damn thing. All of his nine games at the helm where at the 2015 edition of the tournament, when he took New Zealand to the final, where they crashed to Clarke’s Australians – the only match he lost.
The thread connecting McCullum to Ponting is their peerless batting ability. Both were outrageously aggressive, admirably brave, superbly skilled hitters of a cricket ball.
It’s worth remembering that only batters have captained sides to World Cup glory. The closest there have been to exceptions are all-rounders Dev and Khan.
That’s true not only because most skippers are batters, but also because it’s difficult to lead by example as a bowler. Everybody bats. Not everybody bowls.
For all its modernisation and rapid change in the T20 era, cricket remains a game that runs on human nature.
Like all of us, players give of their best when they are inspired, and that won’t change before the 2019 World Cup.
Good thing for SA, then, that they will be led by someone who understands captaincy and inspiration as well as, if not better than, anyone in sport.
The burden is yours, Faf du Plessis. South Africans know you’ll welcome it.